Huge case backlog before Supreme Court's constitution bench

Last Updated : 15 June 2011, 07:50 IST
Last Updated : 15 June 2011, 07:50 IST

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Senior lawyers point out that the constitution bench of five or more judges sits for a few days  every year and disposes of a select number of cases, leaving the remaining matters pending. As a result, cases referred by apex court benches for adjudication by larger benches keep piling up.

Going by the present norms, lawyers feel that it might take at least another decade or so to clear the existing backlog, leave alone the fresh cases that may land before the constitution bench in coming years.

Legal experts say that the very object of referring complicated cases involving points  of law to the constitution bench gets defeated by such an inordinate delay. "If the constitution bench is not constituted for hearing the cases requiring clarity on law, then there is no point in making such references," a senior counsel, who did not wish to be identified, told IANS.

The problem gets compounded as different benches of the apex court often do not accept one another's rulings on points of law. Every year there are a number of cases where on the same question there are two different judgements which require to be reconciled by a larger bench, he said.

Between 2000 and 2010, on an average, 10 larger benches were set up annually to decide issues of interpretation of constitutional provisions or questions of law. In the 1960s, about 100 or so sittings of such benches took place annually.

Former Patna High Court chief justice Nagendra Rai, eminent jurist K.K. Venugopal and former additional solicitor general Amarendra Saran are unanimous that  conflicting verdicts delivered by different benches of the apex court were a major contributor to the long list of pending cases that need hearing by a larger or constitution bench.

One reason for this, they believe, was that the different benches of the apex court were delivering verdicts allowing judges' subjectivity to outweigh the question of law involved in a case.

Venugopal said that there were instances where different benches of the apex court had given different verdicts on identical matters. Counsel said there was an element of subjectivity in the decision making by courts, thereby making them "different and inconsistent" with one another.

Saran said: "All these conflicting judgments are referred to larger benches so that they could be reconciled and harmonised and a correct law could be laid down." Apart from conflicting verdicts, the burden of cases in the apex court too was  responsible for the backlog of cases requiring referral to larger benches, he said.

"When I came to the Supreme Court in 1980 there used to be only 8,000 special leave petitions annually, but today their number is 40,000," Saran told IANS. He said not all bail matters should come up before the apex court. "I strongly believe that except in murder cases, there should not be any denial of per-trial bail," said  Saran.

Nagendra Rai, who is also a senior practising lawyer in the apex court, said  there should be consistency in the application of law and judges must subscribe to "judicial discipline, decorum and decency by respecting the views of other brother judges".

"There should not be any inconsistency in the application of law by different judges,"  Rai said. In a diametrically opposite view, senior counsel Raju Ramachandran said that "one judge disagreeing with another judge is something that can't be avoided".

In fact, that was good for the growth and evolution of law and could not be termed as a problem, he said. Ramachandran said that establishing a permanent constitution bench to hear such matters was necessary to melt the backlog of cases requiring hearing by the larger bench.

"According to me, there must be a permanent constitution bench and now with the increased (apex court) strength of 30 judges plus the chief Justice, there is no reason why there should not be a permanent constitution bench," he said.

He said that instead of sitting just for two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, in a week the constitution bench  should  sit on all five days from Monday to Friday.

Published 15 June 2011, 07:50 IST

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